There’s something unnerving about a summer day in March. The show outside is like a time-lapse movie: buds on fruit trees don’t sweetly emerge in a slow and lady-like fashion, but pop screaming into existence from their branches in contrast to the surrounding dark and barren limbs that didn’t get the memo.
I want nature to behave, to be consistent. I want some outside sign to tell me all is right with the world, because inside I’m at sixes and sevens. (It’s those odd numbers that get you.) I just wrote to a friend telling her I was at a conference with a thousand other people and it felt like a visit to Maggie’s Farm. I’ve come home with a head full of ideas, going from cheerful to discouraged and back again at whiplash pace. In other words, business as usual.
The noise in my head is just the noise in my head. It’s a congenital condition that I must constantly manage. I’m beginning to accept that as I watch my life unfold. In low moments it feels like a B movie, but I’m learning to laugh at myself for that, too. At the conference I reconnected with some wonderful people, and met many more talented and inspiring fellow food writers. The sheer numbers and volume of information were temporarily overwhelming.
Be yourself! Write what you are passionate about! If you’re not Giada or Gwyneth, you can’t write about that! Write what will sell! Be authentic! Get a platform! Be on facebook and twitter! Don’t be on facebook and twitter! (Unless it feels right!) Monetize! Don’t monetize! (Unless if feels right!) Be on the radio! Make t.v. appearances! (As if.) Have a vision! Have a plan!
Now that I am home, the weather is cooperating. Chilly April days prolong the blooms, and the spring light is heartbreaking. For once I welcome the cold. It feels right. I know I just have to keep my head down and put one foot in front of the other. At the end of the day, is there any other choice? The warm weather will arrive soon enough and the garden awaits. Meanwhile, I’m making bowls of comforting spring soup.
|These are Vidalia spring onions, with bulbs much larger than scallions|
Spring watercress soup
Serves 4 (makes 8 cups)
Although you can find it all year long, wild watercress grows from April to November in cool, shallow running water. In our restaurant near Woodstock, New York we gathered watercress from a treasure trove growing at the head of a spring that emerged here and there on its course down the mountain. Watercress duty was a particularly coveted mission—not often could you find a reason to escape the hot kitchen and see the light of a midsummer day to plunder piles of the peppery greens from hand-numbing water.
Many nutritional claims have attached themselves to watercress over the years: it is rich in vitamins and minerals such as iron, calcium and folic acid. According to Francis Cuppage’s book, James Cook and the Conquest of Scurvy, watercress kept the good captain’s sailors healthy with the green. In addition, British author Colin Spencer wrote that the Romans treated insanity with watercress and vinegar. Whether watercress is mind-steadying or not, making the soup is. A classic in the French and British repertoire, it is indeed a spring tonic.
Choose bright green watercress without any yellow leaves or slippery stems, and use within a day or two. Watercress does not stay fresh for very long.
2 bunches watercress
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large spring onion, thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 cups) (not scallions, see photo above)
2 potatoes (1 pound) peeled, halved and thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
5 cups vegetable stock, chicken stock or water
Salt and pepper to taste
Unsweetened whipped cream or crème fraiche, for garnish
Chives, chopped, for garnish
1. Trim and discard 1 inch of the thick stems from the bottom of each watercress bunch. Rinse well, and cut across the branches to make 3-inch pieces.
2. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions, and cook gently for 2 to 3 minutes, or until they are soft but not brown. Add the potatoes, watercress, and stock. Bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to a simmer and add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 15 to 18 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
3. Fill a blender jar with about half the soup solids and half the liquid. Cover the top of the blender with a folded dishtowel, and start blending on low speed. Increase the speed slowly, and puree until smooth. Pour into a clean pot and repeat with remaining soup. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper. Reheat before serving. Garnish each bowl with a spoonful of unsweetened whipped cream or crème fraiche, and sprinkle with chopped chives.